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‘Distinct’ creature — marked with an ‘X’ — found lurking in China. It’s a new species

“Q” never marks the spot. Sometimes “O,” yes, but rarely because “X” usually marks the spot.

For a group of scientists in China, this treasure map cliche was about to come true — just not in the way a pirate-loving child might imagine.

Researchers ventured into the nighttime landscape of Yunnan province on wildlife surveys in 2019 and 2023, according to a study published Feb. 22 in the peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys. The province “harbors the highest amphibian species diversity” in the country — and that’s what they were looking for.

During the surveys, researchers found eight frogs lurking in the bushes, the study said. The frogs had a “distinct,” “X-shaped” marking on their backs and didn’t match any known species.

Looking closer at the animals, researchers realized they’d discovered a new species: Raorchestes hekouensis, or the Hekou bush frog.

Hekou bush frogs are considered “small,” measuring less than an inch in length, the study said. They have “rounded” snouts, partially webbed toes and a “rough” skin texture.

Photos show the “yellowish brown” coloring of a Hekou bush frog. On its back, it has a “distinct dark brown X-shaped marking,” researchers said.

A Raorchestes hekouensis, or Hekou bush frog.
A Raorchestes hekouensis, or Hekou bush frog.

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The “X-shaped” mark is darker and more obvious on some frogs, a second set of photos shows. The intersection of the “X” crosses the center of the frog’s back.

Hekou bush frogs were found at night in “shrubs and herbs on the edge of a small stream,” the study said. Some of the males’ mating calls were heard echoing in the dark during a springtime expedition.

Another Raorchestes hekouensis, or Hekou bush frog.
Another Raorchestes hekouensis, or Hekou bush frog.

Researchers said they named the new species after Hekou County, the area where the frogs were discovered and the main area where they have been found. This county is in Yunnan province and on the China-Vietnam border, about 1,200 miles southwest of Shanghai.

Hekou bush frogs likely live across the border, the study said. Researchers found a record of a frog from Vietnam that matched the DNA of the new species and was likely misidentified.

The new species was identified by its size, color pattern and other subtle physical features, the study said. DNA analysis found the new species had between 2.5% and about 13% genetic divergence from other bush frogs.

The research team included Lingyun Du, Yuhan Xu, Shuo Liu and Guohua Yu.

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